TEHRAN, Iran – Iran will not remain neutral if the United States attacks its ally Syria, but military strikes against U.S. forces are not an option, Iran's former Revolutionary Guards chief said Tuesday.
"We will not engage in military confrontation with the Americans, but will employ all our nonmilitary facilities to prevent such an attack or to support Syria," Mohsen Rezaei told a news conference.
The Bush administration has accused Syria of harboring remnants of Saddam Hussein's toppled regime, supporting terrorism and possessing chemical weapons, increasing fears that Syria is America's next target.
Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday raised the possibility of diplomatic and economic sanctions on Syria. President Bush over the weekend warned Damascus to "cooperate," but was ambiguous about what price Syria might pay for defying America.
Syria's Cabinet on Tuesday denied America's allegations that Syria has chemical weapons and harbors fugitive Iraqi leaders, saying such charges were instigated by Israel.
According to the official Syrian Arab News Agency, the Syrian Cabinet "denounced the threatening language and false accusations being directed at Syria by some American officials."
Rezaei, now secretary of Iran's powerful advisory Expediency Council, said Iran was "happy" to see Saddam ousted because he "invaded our country, devastated our economy and killed hundreds of thousands of our troops and civilians" during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
"But Syria is our strategic ally," said Rezaei, whose comments represent views held by Iran's ruling conservatives. "During the [Iran-Iraq] war, our warplanes took off from Syria to bomb targets in Iraq."
During the 1980s and '90s, Rezaei headed the Revolutionary Guards, a fighting force under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's direct control that protects Iran's borders and defends ruling hard-liners in this conservative Shiite Muslim-dominated state.
Other nearby countries have also weighed in on the issue.
"This war should end in Iraq," said Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, encouraging the U.S. forces to stay out of Syria.
In Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in remarks published Tuesday that the U.S. must exert "economic and diplomatic" pressure on Syria to expel Palestinian militants from Damascus.
America regards Iran and Syria as sponsors of terrorist groups. Syria and Iran deny the claims, but support the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah, which fought against Israel's 18-year occupation of south Lebanon that ended in 2000.
Rezaei also said Washington should compensate Tehran for damages sustained by stray coalition missiles that landed in southwestern Iran during the latest war and for damages to its economy.
Rezaei said President Mohammad Khatami's policy of detente toward America was "on the verge of failure" because Washington has so far rejected Iran's overtures to mend diplomatic ties severed since the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran.
While disliking Saddam, Iran strongly opposed the U.S.-led war on neighboring Iraq, fearing it could give Washington a free hand in post-Saddam Iraq and leave Iran encircled by pro-American countries.